Authority and Performance: Sociological Perspectives on the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451)

One can hardly exaggerate the importance of the church councils in the 5th and 6th centuries. They provide us with great insights into the situation in the late Roman Empire and particularly into the role of the Church at that time. Because of the rich source materials, the dramatic course it took and its overall historical relevance, the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) is one of the most important events of that period. The decrees of this council led to major upheavals in the Church which continue to this very day. Hagit Amirav presents the first study on the social dynamics and various roles played by the stakeholders of this council, the power plays of the imperial representatives and the bishops, their actions and statements designed to further a consensus. At the centre of this analysis lies Marcian in his dual role as Emperor of the East Roman Empire as well as a central figure in the Church. The Council of Chalcedon has come firmly into focus lately among late antique historians, but many find it problematic to integrate doctrinal issues into their historical thinking. Yet councils were major events, calling for a variety of modern approaches, including discourse analysis. They also cry out for interpretation in terms of performance, already a theme in current scholarship on late antiquity. In contrast with conventional approaches, Hagit Amirav offers a bold reading of the Council of Chalcedon in terms of sociology and anthropology and reveals its importance as one of the greatest performative occasions of late antiquity. Dame Averil Cameron, University of Oxford The very detailed Acts of the Church Council held at Chalcedon in CE 451 make this the most fully recorded event from Antiquity. Hagit Amirav takes this priceless verbatim record, and uses it to ask how the participants exercised their authority, and how they played their roles in speaking at the Council. In other words she looks at it as a real-life drama. The result is a fresh and illuminating look at this major turning-point in Christian history. Sir Fergus Millar, University of Oxford